Neck pain vs Shoulder Pain

‘Neck pain vs. Shoulder pain vs. are they the same?’

Neck pain vs. Shoulder Pain

‘My neck and shoulders hurt’ is a common statement heard at the clinic.  Neck pain, makes sense, it’s the thing between your head and upper back.  But shoulder pain…  “My shoulders hurt”.  Your shoulders or your shoulder blades?  Front or back?  Or side?  Or armpit?  Most times, the first statement means shoulder blades.  Shoulder pain (Rotator Cuff injuries/SLAP lesions/Frozen Shoulder) will be covered a couple of weeks from now.  In the meantime, please look at the picture below to see the area we are specifically talking about. 

The neck and shoulder complex

Notice the layers – there are more!  Think about how flexing the neck can make the shoulder blades hurt.  Especially when at the computer for hours or playing games on your cell phone telephone.  Even shoulder blade tension can lead to headaches – the upper fibers attach to the neck and the back of the skull.  Neck pain can make shoulder blade pain worse and shoulder pain can make neck pain worse.  Vicious cycle.

Enough anatomy – what does the pain mean?

Different types of pain, of course, mean different structures are affected and result in different types of disorders.  Is the pain:  Burning, shooting, stabbing, achy, stiff, tingling, sharp with movement?  Most of these, by themselves mean little, but with general orthopedic testing usually the diagnosis isn’t that difficult. The chiropractor will use the tests to figure out the cause of the discomfort.   Imaging (MRI/X-ray) is rarely needed in absence of trauma.  Many different muscles are involved and when you chase pain, it can be hard to pinpoint the structures directly affected:  it could be the muscles, nerves, discs, ligaments etc… 

General exercises to relieve pain

There are a lot of exercises for the many different diagnoses in the neck/shoulder complex.  However, there are a few that work for most people, no matter the diagnosis.   Here it is:  consult your chiropractor or general doctor before starting any exercise plan.  These exercises are basic, easy ways to help control discomfort stop a problem from showing up (if it has not already).

Mckenzie extensions (Turtle neck exercises)

Sit upright, with your neck relaxed and neutral.  Move your head backwards as if you have a finger on your chin and are pushing straight back.  Breathe normally, do not hold your breath throughout the exercise.  Hold for about 5 seconds and slowly move back to neutral.  This can be done 10-15 times per day.

Wall Angels

Stand upright with back and head against the wall.  Place your feel slightly in front of you.  Don’t arch your back, move your shoulders from the bottom position to the top.  20 reps per day will help with computer workers and those who lean forward a lot for work.

Thoracic rotations

Stand upright like the picture below with good posture.  Making sure to ‘push’ your shoulder blades together throughout the exercise, start making 6 inch circles in the air with your arms.  Breathe normally and keep your head in a neutral position, looking straight ahead.  Do this until you feel a burning between your shoulders, then do 5 more.  You will feel your posture start to fix right away and the muscles will actually make it difficult to have bad posture.  This is best done as part of your daily routine.

Neck and shoulder blade pain – conclusion

Neck pain and shoulder blade pain go hand-in-hand.   Very often, they are found together.  If you suffer with this type of discomfort, try the exercises.  If you feel pain in your hands, get dizzy, feel uneasy or have shooting pain, STOP.  Try each of these daily.  If these don’t seem to help – give Dr. Patten a call.